MEETING WITH FATE. |
A crushed vibrant life....
He told me that he would go on his own if necessary. Six months later he was dead – a disfigured corpse just about recognizable which betrayed the loneliness of those last weeks that led to his life being, crudely and obscenely removed from his body.
Farzhad Bazoft was an affectionate, very good looking boy in his middle twenties, fresh from Iran and intent on making a future for himself - a future away from a mother country he loved but which the Authorities of the day deprived him from calling his own. His parents, still in Iran, came from a family capable of supporting itself and which had managed to get its children out into the free world. None of them faced going back after their studies,with any degree of aspiration and one – Farzhad was never to see any of them again.
He stood defiantly in the lounge of my Kensington house where he stayed as often as he wanted treating me like a long lost uncle and making few demands that I was not willing to give him. He asked for my camera and I denied helping in this respect, knowing that he would interpret it as a indication of my acceptance of his planned trip to Baghdad. The mysterious figure who was to go with him, an Egyptian journalist by the name of Darwich, had pulled out and Farzhad was adamant. “I have been invited by the Ministry of Information of Iraq”. I could not disagree, but I warned him of my very intimate knowledge of the weird and wonderful ways in which the diplomatic and intelligence services worked. He had already been arrested and pressurised to admit his connection with the British Intelligence services in Cairo or Algers. I have always been interested in substance and not in detail so I remember that he was accused of spying and that he managed to be got out eventually. Farzhad wrote about what he knew and pestered me for material whenever he run dry. Once he came in foaming at the mouth and showing me a copy of The Observer ranting about the abuse of the free press because Tiny Rolands had utilized it to make a scathing attack on Al Fayed, the Harrods owner who had beat him to the purchase of the famous shop. To write for British Newspapers you have to be in the right place at the right time and be lucky enough to get an editor pounce on material he or she wanted at the time and which suited the editoral policy. Opinions, however gifted and well written, were thrown aside in favour of things that fitted the bill. I found that out when I wrote for agencies on subjects that I was particularly knowledgeable about. I also found that anything of any controversial worth (in my opinion) was wheedled out and the texts made to say whatever the editor or advisors wanted it to say. One classical comment, was “We want facts, not comments.....” As a long standing member of the Commonwealth Press Union with a ticket to meet the rich, the powerful and the famous, it did not take me long to work out what made society tick and all too often came close to shadowy figures who asked for favours which I was not prepared to give and who worked away with great diligence on my weaknesses. I was therefore quite often dined and wined by people determined to make you miss them and build them into your lives. Of course, whereas they were every inch as exciting and enjoyable as they made themselves to be, I had no difficulty in seeing the shadows behind them and the purpose behind their madness. I knew just how reptilic and ungrateful the intelligence services were (from dumped elderly agents on park benches so to speak) and the implications of their requests when rich and influential people like myself were singled out for cosy talks and loose compliments. It made my hackles rise with the implied disrespect for my life and safety. I had therefore very deep suspicions of potential manipulation of Farzhads rampant needs both from the services and diplomatic elements working in their periphery. I did not suspect the editor of the Observer, Donald Trelford who appeared to be taking a deep interest in his work (bearing in mind that Farzhad could barely write reasonable English). He was however learning fast and short of strightening out a sentence or two, his general comments were appreciably consolidating. Trelford was an interesting character, but I could not but see a typical tolerated editor looking for material on which to hang establishment aspirations. The disgust about the sizeable section of The Observer, written or dictated by Rowlands against Al Fayed, spoke volumes about so called editorial integrity and perhaps Farzhad had been denied print of more articles than I was aware of. Farzhad spoke of checking out potential bacteriological contamination of a recent site in Baghdad which had been the scene of a mysterious explosion worthy of inspection and he told his press team that he was willing to help find out by going out there. I could not understand why teams of experts throughout the world had not sent their representatives under the auspices of the UN and or why the world press had not asked for admission to the site. Yet Farzhad seemed to have obtained an exclusive and I thought suicidal invitation if he even remotely got hold of any damning evidence.
“You are mad” I toldhim angrily. “The whole thing smacks of a manipulated attempt to get you there for some other reason”
“ I can do a good story here and I need to get on with my work. It is so difficult to keep on finding the sort of material they want”
I challenged him then “Have you been approached by intelligence services to do work for them or perhaps by others working for them ? His response was emphatic. “Never ! Do you think I´m an idiot ? I know what they get up to and after what I went through last time in Algeria when they thought I was a spy, I would never allow myself to be associated with things like that”. He did not convince me, but I realized later that he was was not aware of the very many different ways the agencies worked. I suspected that those who had invited him hoped that they would convince Farzhad that they would give the Iraqui Government a clean bill of health or perhaps usefully indict him and hold him as a useful hostage” Those who had asked him to come across, it would appear, were not totally in favour of the ruthless Hussein who was already producing a counter reactionary political situation in his country. However, despite closing my mind to it. knowing how stubborn Farzad was, I made a few enquiries among journalistic contacts for potentially interesting material and got a few thing on my own list. I was anxious to dissuade him from taking on such a perilous journey. I never saw Farzad again. Much later I was informed (in the same shadowy way that I often learnt of things), that Farzhad had obtained soil samples and that he had successful passed them on to British embassy personnel prior to his arrest, kangaroo court, torture and eventual partial or singular execution.
Signs of Success and a taste of what was to come
Farzhad had by then obtained an expense account and treated me to dinners that I had previously always paid for, refusing to allow me to pay despite the fact, as I learnt later, that he had not paid his mortgage for some time. Friends of his often came to my house and I loved their Arabian stimulating company, feeling as I always did the exciting difference of their perceptions and spontaneous ability to make the business of living so simple and meaningful. Farshad was not typical. He came from what I was told was a Jewish background and had more in common with that culture than the Arab one. As a Persian, of course, he had little to do with Arab customs but with Islamic upbringing, it often difficult to appreciate these differences. Maybe, therein, lay the determined attempt to show Iraq up and his reckless bid for British fame. Farszad was a British Patriot and despite his foreign accent, I often felt he had more British in him than could be attributed to his lengthy stay in the England. I still think with anguish that he could have been spared and perhaps even saved by the warring Iron Lady who said “she was not for turning” Farszhad had a British passport, as far as I knew, but I suspect that he was discarded as just another one of those Middle Easterners who made claims on British protection and who did not qualify for rule bending or expensive rescue attempts. I came to that conclusion when the Press “suddenly” found material to damage his integrity after the execution. It was an attempt to deflect public anger away from Iraq and perhaps also mitigate the growing feeling that the British Government had let him down.
A taste of things to come.
I would rather forget the night I confronted him with the horrors of what could be ahead of him, - especially after what followed.
We were quite close to the The Windsor Castle pub and I often went there for the cosmopolitan atmosphere created by the huge variety of people with such diverse ethnic origins. This was Holland Park and Notting Hill Gate after all. I was not prepared to hear what he told me once inside the milling fold. “Be careful, I think I´m being watched.... Did you see the guy outside ? I know he is Arab probably Algerian and I think he just came in to see where we were standing.” I needed very little bidding to wish I was somewhere else, but if he was correct and he was going to be ambushed, it was safer inside. It was probably one of the worst experiences of my life since I could not understand why the Arab looking man who had come in, had scoured the room for heaven knows what but did not go to the bar for a drink. He went out looking behind his back and I had a peculiar sensation that it was all too real for comfort. I challenged Farzhad again “and you want to go into situations that produce this....? “ He did not seem the slightest perturbed and I felt as if he was involving me in something that he had no right to. “I think I am being followed for some reason, but I don´t think it is more than that....” Little did I know then that I would, after his death, be considered Thatcher´s Spymaster and that I would have the world cameras at my doorstep after just having been told that he had been unceremoniously hanged in the presence of Sadhham Hussein himself. I was even accused of having recruited, trained and prepared him for the task ahead. The crestfallen rag that faced the televison interviewers that morning was hardly an 007 but I hope the outrage and sense of futility came across. During the solemn and almost State like funeral in Fleet Street and final burial in Highgate cemetery, the state presence permeated the atmosphere with a sense of guilt that I could not fail to undertand. Peculiar introductions to future meetings noticed by our close circle of friends, pointed towards a dimension of other perhaps professional friends who wanted to tell me more. There was no need to, but as things stand today, perhaps the Press may have cause to analyse its own function and maybe make a final effort to become what it was designed to be initially in the mantle of democracy – a source of reliable information and an active instrument of moderation and criticism of public manipulation and abuse. Print for its own sake or shareholder amusement makes very little sense especially when it dominates a market and excludes other, less prosperous, but potentially more investigative newspapers from taking on the task.
A Potentially good investigative reporter.
My staff called him Buzz Off because his calls were usually designed to get hold of me there and then. They all knew that he was a friend and they liked him, but his constant telephone calls amidst so much to do were infuriating to them. I also found him very time consuming, but he was “at home” with me and he had the uncanny ability to make me feel that that was were I wanted to be. I had not met all of his many friends outside the Arab circle, but I was to meet them later, during the campaign to release him, outside the Iraqui embassy. After the hanging, we visited each other almost as members of one family to exchange notes and perhaps drain the grief out of our systems. One particular girl, and one he had often quizzed me about who worked for the Observer, was Ruth Miller. Many a time I had tried to reason with Farzhad that if she continued to go out with her childhood, boyfriend that she obviously did not feel enough to want to return his attentions. “Let her be” I had chided him. “The last thing you want is more problems especially of that sort..” I had had my own share of broken relationships and impossible dreams, especially among the high fliers and cynicism had set in well before my thirties. I could only stand in silent amazement, holding this girl´s hand before the gruesome sight of a man we both loved in different ways, in a box in a cramped dimly lit room resembling a scene from a horror movie. His neck betrayed every mark of the fibres that made up the rope that had robbed him of his life and to which he had surrendered with such dignity and bravery. We felt his body in an attempt to determine whether the final cause of death had been the actual lynching or whether by demanding his body, we had accelerated his final removal from the world he was perhaps being kept alive in. In any case, it was obvious that his parents would not be allowed to see him in this state.
Farzhad was a very approachable person, but difficult to influence. He disagreed with most things but always looked at you from the corner of his eye to determine whether it altered his relationship with him. Throughout the years, he disappeared for a while only to turn up with new ideas and always silent about the lost periods. He spoke about a couple in the outskirts whom, like me he had adopted. And with whom he spent a great deal of his time. I was to learn from a vindictive, sadly manipulated press that he had been to jail once for demands with menaces in a bank. It was an obvious, however true, attempt to mitigate British Government fear of public reaction for the lost opportunities to save his life. Thatcher, as always, returned foreign threats with scorn and in the light of modern versions of similar dramas in other countries, she was negligent. The connection between her son´s business involvement with the Iraqui Government and the Missile launcher has never been properly investigated and the manner in which it was all handled, leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth. Whatever, all our attempts to soften the butcher of Baghdad came to nothing, including a personal letter and a determined conversation on my part with Iraqui Embassy officials. I knew and told the campaigners the day before, that Farzhad would not survive the night. The Embassy officials had just put out a message that told me so..”When it is all over, we can perhaps all get down to reason......” Sacrificial victims could not be more clearly defined. Farzhad was killed to spite Thatcher and as promised, sent in a box. What still undermines my strength is that like myself, Ruth, felt that he was still alive after the declaration of his execution. She had a gasping voice phone call the night after the execution and appeared to recognize the overtones. I also had something similar, but I later discovered that it came from a rather evil, self destructive, ex-employee who had abused my friendship. The heavy breathing on the phone with airy words that made them difficult to record, provoked his repulsive, oppotunistic image. The security services no doubt tracked the call but I was not informed. The strange thing however, was that both Ruth and I and later, another of his close friends, a charismatic designer with whom I was to establish a close friendly relationship, felt, like we all did, that sense of a life cord that had not yet been entirely severed. By demanding the repatriation of the body, we may have accelerated his final demise. One day whilst searching internet for details of Iranian and Chinese state depravities, I watched a particular photograph of a figure with his back to the camera on the ground but with enough profile to recognize him. It must have been taken just after the lynching. His right arm was curled round the back of his head in a sleeping posture and he may have still been alive then. Perahps we will never know.
“What a pity that I should have to die before the world knows the truth”.
Farzad's grave, the site of yearly gatherings by friends and family who lovingly share food and drink over it, states what he said before being pushed through that grim, ungodly, door. He walked it shortly after having been woken up by the ill prepared Consul who told him that he had half an hour left. Time enough for him to write a few letters and tell the consul what to do for him. I always felt that it was a bungled, cruel way of saying goodbye to an innocent press representative who even at the very end could have pleaded for time to get his Prime Minister or even, the Queen to find out what Hussein wanted.
Farszad lies next to one of his press mates, and just about opposite the redoubtable Karl Marx who did what all political ideologists do well – divide and destroy whole communities, leaving open to abuse and annihilation innocent, helpless people whose only sin is to stand up for human rights or even a bowl of food to live on. On hearing about the wretched circumstances surrounding the hanging of the man who took his son´s life away from him, Farzads father, echoed his son´s nobility by commenting that even Sadham did not deserve such a terrible death.
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Hanging, execution, lynching, sadham hussein, iraq, observer journalist, british hostage, highgate cemetery.,